Anchorage, Alaska and Native Dancing Trees Spear Fishing

Old Woman Hunting

Ceremonial Tree Dance on the bluff

While in Anchorage, Alaska this past weekend a friend and I rented bicycles and rode fourteen miles on the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.  The natural beauty of Alaska is breathtaking and we were reminded of the wonders of nature at what seemed like every turn.  Not only did we pass eagles fishing for their lunch in the waters alongside the trail, but also happened upon a bull moose foraging in the woods.  His antlers blended in so well with the leaves surrounding him that had it not been for his enormous size and dark brown fur, we’d have biked right on past him.   After turning around and heading back into town, we were again stopped dead in our tracks after rounding a corner on the trail and coming face to face with a cow (female moose) and her young calf.   She seemed so serene and her baby almost oblivious to us, however we weren’t taking any chances and quickly back-peddled to a safe enough distance and waited for her to move off the trail and into the woods.

While I found the moose to be majestic, nothing compared to a few old trees I happened to spot along the way.  One reminded me of an old woman with a spear – fishing for her dinner, and another seemed to have the shape of a Native Eskimo – dancing along the bluff.   The trees were so strange, so odd, so old, and I was immediately enchanted at how much character they had.  Surrounding them were lush trees overflowing with green leaves and young fresh bark, while these old gals wore the years of harsh weather like some great ceremonial coat.   Charles Baudelaire once said, “Strangeness is a necessary ingredient in beauty.” I completely agree with Mr. Baudelaire as I most certainly always see beauty in strangeness….and trees

You’re So Naive

Jennifer Allison

“He destroyed in her the knowing, doubting, sophisticated Ella, and again and again he put her intelligence to sleep, and with her willing connivance, so that she floated darkly on her love for him, on her naivety, which is another word for a spontaneous creative faith. And when his own distrust of himself destroyed this woman-in-love, so that she began thinking, she would fight to return to naivety.”
― Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook: Perennial Classics edition


Americana – County Fair Colors











Port Townsend, Washington and Snot Fest with Roman Smiles

Jennifer Allison – Street Performers in Port Townsend

A couple of weekends ago, a friend invited me to Port Townsend to attend “Fiddle Fest” with her and a few other friends.   She had an extra ticket and thought I’d enjoy it.  I’m a huge fan of the violin; both classical and fiddle style so the invite was much welcomed.  Not to mention the drive out to the Olympic Peninsula is picturesque and the sun was shining and warm – no small feat for the western side of the Pacific Northwest in June.  We started our day off early, giving us plenty of time to enjoy a leisurely lunch and window shopping, so that by the time the festival’s finale began we’d already be lounging on the grass, glass of wine in hand, ready to enjoy the musical line-up.

I’ve been to Port Townsend a dozen or so times in the last sixteen years and, aesthetically, it hasn’t changed a bit.  It has the look and feel of a quaint American coastal town; it’s Main Street lined in brick facade buildings, Victorian bed and breakfasts galore, sail boats dotting the water, as well as waterfront restaurants and pricey boutique shops.   The locals adorn themselves in expensive imported or local handmade leather clogs, sandals, jewelry, bohemian style dresses and such.

Port Townsend also hosts a variety of artist, writers and music retreats year round; if you were to ask anyone involved in the arts in the Pacific Northwest, they’d know exactly where Port Townsend is on the map.  Though I haven’t looked at the specific statistics, and am speaking solely from my own experiences and lackadaisical information gathered throughout the years visiting the town, the cost of living is high and the community itself tends to have more retirees than not.  Those who want to leave the hustle of Seattle for a quieter, coastal art community tend to make it their home.

Again, it’s picturesque, it’s quaint, the views are breathtaking, there are an abundance of artistic retreats to choose from, art galleries to peruse, the drive to get there is lovely and the restaurants are spectacular. However…I’ve met nicer, kinder people in the upscale Kennebunkport Maine, downtown Chicago and even Boston.  The snobbery and exclusivity of the locals rivals that of Rome, Italy.  I typically re-visit places for the general feelings I get from the people, as I am a “people person.”  Although, on occasion, I’ll return to a place solely based on either natural beauty or historic/artistic interest. Port Townsend is one of those very places.  It’s appealing on all levels except for the very humanistic one.  I’ve simply never left the town with warm and fuzzy feelings towards the inhabitants.  On the contrary, I typically leave a little lost as to how such a sweet looking town, with so many creative souls, can feel so cold, cliquish and generally snobbish to its visitors (who happen to represent a large portion of the town’s income).

Interestingly enough, the one person to welcome me to the festival (besides my friend whom I was joining), to offer me her food, her drinks and her big toothy smile was a Roman woman named Romina.  She was part of our “group” lounging on the grass listening to the music.  Although she now lives in the United States with her husband and son, she was born and raised in the San Giovani area of Rome.  I’ve been to Rome many many times and the only warmth I received from the women came from my ex-quasi-boyfriend’s family.  They were extremely kind and welcoming to me.  In general though, I was snubbed- dubbed an outsider and made to feel like it.  Much like the feelings I get when visiting Port Townsend.

Yet there I was, surrounded by the snobbiness that is the people of Port Townsend, and am loved up by a Roman woman of all people.  We sat next to one another and chatted about Italy, America and cultural differences while laughing and listening to the Bluegrass fiddlers in the background.  We spoke a bit in Italian (l’ve been working on the language with religious-like devotion and am finally “getting it”) and she gave me some great tips on “must-see towns” in the North of Italy during my upcoming visit.

When it was time to go she hugged me and looking me in the eye, told me she’d love to meet again and hopes it can happen.  As we drove out of town that evening, I felt warm and fuzzy; something the town’s people had never brought me.  Port Townsend had been redeemed by a woman from Rome, Italy named Romina…how ironic…

Methow Valley, Washington and Aristocratic Whistling Horses

For the past several summers my boys and I have packed our bags, our food, our sunscreen and bug spray and headed east of the mountains to the beautiful Methow Valley.  We look forward to it all year and the memories we make are extremely precious to me.  This year I borrowed my father’s truck and a friend’s vintage 1967 Aristocrat Lo-Liner travel trailer/caravan; complete with a bright turquoise oven and refrigerator.  Although I have zero experience pulling a caravan (and for me to drive my father’s four wheel drive truck I had to move the seat to the closest possible setting so as to reach the pedals)  I was nonetheless completely ready for the adventure.  I’m getting older, and the thought of another year sleeping on the floor of a tent with two smelly teenage boys was getting to be too much.  Last year I found myself laying awake at night with thoughts of the Westin hotel’s “heavenly” beds and showers…and room service… Needless to say, I was thrilled to have been offered the caravan.  My older son however, was nervous.  He worried I’d lose control of the steering on the mountain pass leading to the caravan, along with the three of us screaming inside, plummeting to the valley below; a heap of bones and turquoise oven parts.  I assured him that I knew what I was doing (although I really didn’t) and suggested he relax and enjoy the ride as we headed out-of-town.

The five-hour drive saw us leaving the dark, thick Cedar and Douglas Fir woods of Western Washington, through the ear-popping mountain peaks of Snoqualmie Pass, and entering the Eastern side of Washington .  Once east, the skies opened; no longer blocked by the tall trees and mountains, the warm sun and blue sky welcomed us into her house like an old friend.  Hours later we landed smack dab in the heart of rolling hills, patchwork-like quilts of old farms and acres upon acres of orchards and vineyards of the Methow Valley.  Along the way, cardboard signs decorated with balloons, streamers and even deer antlers dotted the roads; handwritten words announcing a wedding, an anniversary or a garage sale on each.

I laughed to myself at the silliness (and my stubbornness) of it all; driving a borrowed old caravan/trailer with a borrowed truck through the mountains and into the open road, while singing along to Andrea Bocelli on my iPod without a clue of what I was doing.  Only weeks prior I had been in downtown Chicago, spending the day at the Chicago Art Institute Museum surrounded by Picasso, Monet and Warhol.  After the museum I enjoyed a cappuccino at a coffee house across the street before catching the subway back to my hotel.  While I could literally bathe in the fine waters of art, submersing myself in city culture, I am just as happy hiking up a well-worn trail, letting my feet get dirty with muddy waters and keeping my hair in a pony tail for days on end.  Nature, small towns and farming communities have a culture of their own that I certainly don’t mind bathing in either.  I’ll admit I have my limits when “roughing it” outside, but that said, I also have my limits of enduring the over-stimulus of the concrete jungle as well.  It appears I am quite limited…..

Around dinner time we finally arrived at Whistlin’ Pines on Alta Lake in Pateros.  The owner, Brian, greeted us with a friendly smile, handshakes and hugs.  Brian also runs Sawtooth Outfitters – a guide company that essentially takes people (mostly men) into the woods for sometimes weeks on end, on horseback, with mules, carrying guns, supplies and such…to kill things and bring back the meat…and such.  Born on the property some sixty odd years ago, Brian’s the real deal when it comes to cowboys.  Tan, broad, rough and leathery, he wears Wrangler jeans, old cowboy boots and a worn and dirty cowboy hat. I’ve only ever seen him wearing a shirt a few times.  He’s the man you want in your corner; a fierce protector.   I can’t help but feel completely girlie when around Brian, no matter how tough I think I am. I’m sure there are even a few men out there who’ve felt like a fancy pants in his presence and even rattlesnakes fear him.

In fact, last year during our visit, I found a rattlesnake by our tent and alerted Brian.  He slowly walked down the path to our site, flat head shovel in hand, located the snake within minutes and as quick as a viper himself, cut it’s head off, chopped it up and buried it.  He then grabbed the still wriggling body, took a knife from his pocket, sliced it open and skinned it right there; throwing the snake meat to his dog, Chili.  Handing the skin and rattles to my son he smiled, wished us a good night and went back to his house to eat his dinner.  We all stood and watched him walk away – in awe and shock at what we had witnessed.

After unpacking, settling in and eating dinner I poured myself a drink and walked down to the lake with my younger son.  The sun had set and the night-time was arriving.  It’s always been my favorite time of the day on the lake.  Everyone else is usually either still cooking or cleaning themselves up for the night, therefore, it’s incredibly peaceful.  We sat on the edge of the floating dock and quietly watched the turtles swim by; their little heads popping up every so often.  The bats joined us too; skimming the water for their own dinner and drinks and across the lake, the sounds of the horses running and neighing echoed off the cliffs surrounding us.  I’d like to believe that Picasso, Warhol and Monet would have loved it there as well.  When the mosquitoes got to be too much we headed back to our Aristocrat to hunker down for the night, play a game and eat cookies in bed…

Methow Valley, Washington

I snapped these photos at the Rest Awhile Country Market and Fruit Stand in Pateros, Washington.  Perhaps the best fresh apricot scone I’ve had in my life is served here…  What makes this place even better are the people who bake the sweets, pick the organic fruit and brew the locally roasted coffee.  If you ever find yourself in the Methow Valley, I highly recommend a stop..

Jennifer Allison

Jennifer Allison

Jennifer Allison

Anna Swir, Poet

Anna Swir’s poem, I Talk To My Body, has always been one of my favorites.  From time to time, I would read it to my yoga students while in Sivasana.  Her likening the body to a gate of leaving and entering oneself has always resonated with me.  In most of my readings the body is never used as a “gate”, only the mind.  In the past, meditation was quite difficult for me; my leaving of myself, was for many years, only possible through the concentration and control of my body through Ashtanga yoga.  Fortunately, I have since learned the art of sitting quietly and meditating, though still depend greatly on my physical practice to enter and leave myself as well.  I dedicate this poem to Cathrine Garrigues -A strong and dedicated yogi, as well as my first teacher.  Catherine has since passed away, but I think of her often….

I Talk To My Body

My body, you are an animal
whose appropriate behavior
is concentration and discipline.
An effort
of an athlete, of a saint and of a yogi.

Well trained,
you may become for me
a gate
through which I will leave myself
and a gate
through which I will enter myself.
A plumb line to the center of the earth
and a cosmic ship to Jupiter.

My body, you are an animal
for whom ambition
is right.
Splendid possibilities
are open to us.

– Anna Swir
Translated from the Polish by Czeslaw Milosz and Leonard Nathan

Austin, Texas and Alone with Walls in Lone Star

Jennifer Allison

On the fourth of July I spent the day in Austin, Texas.  Having had most of the day free from work and after a quick rest in my hotel room, I headed out in the sweltering heat, water in hand, to explore south Austin.  I expected to see cowboy boots, star-shaped belt buckles, men with big trucks and BBQ joints as I made my way down Capital Street.  Instead I found sun dresses and wedge heels on the women, flip-flops and trendy silk screened retro tee-shirts on the men, straw fedora hats on both and a fair share of Mini Coopers and BMWs whizzing by on the expansive four lane road which housed the “boutiques.”  It appeared that I had been, unbeknownst to me, teleported to southern California without my knowing.  The crowds were beginning to amass, readying for the fireworks that would be set off hours later and the heat wasn’t letting up.  It would be a few more hours until the sun would set and the cooler night air would let us breath again.  I scanned the storefronts for a good place to eat and rest a bit from the sun, however found most places were closed for the holiday.  Since I had no real plans, the fireworks were literally right in front of my hotel, therefore guaranteeing me a “good spot” and my belly was growling, I continued to walk anyway.  I figured that sooner or later I’d find somewhere that was not only open, but had a good menu as well.

Walking down Capital Way I found an entire grass parking lot filled with converted Airstreams and caravans offering any food choice you could think of.  Food trucks have been making a go of it all over the country and Austin is no different. They are not your typical hot-dog-on-a-stick fair quality food wagons either.  Many of the ones I’ve visited during my travels carry local fresh and organic menus and are really quite good.  I settled on Nomad Dosa; an old converted Airstream serving vegan and wheat free southern Indian food made with fresh produce provided by the locals.  I paid for my jasmine rice topped with Kerala Kokonut and took a seat at one of the many small umbrella covered picnic tables sprinkled throughout the grass.  It seemed odd to me – to be eating traditional southern Indian food on a picnic table in Austin, Texas on the 4th of July.  I felt like I should’ve been eating a rack of pork ribs or something of the carnivorous nature while washing it down with a cold Budweiser.  Instead I sat eating alone at my little red picnic table, munching on my vegan Indian delights, sipping a cold water and observed the people go by.

As I sat there, people watching, I became acutely aware that I was the only one eating alone.  In fact, as I looked past the other trailer eaters chatting amongst one another: I saw that I was literally the only person doing anything alone that day.  Couples, families and friends filled the sidewalks, picnic tables and streets.  It was, after all, a holiday.  I travel for work and have vacationed plenty on my own and have never been bothered by the fact that I was generally by myself.  Usually I’m never the only person eating alone, walking alone and shopping alone.  There have always seemed to be other “loners” out there going about their business just like me.  Though on the 4th of July, in Austin, Texas, the only woman doing anything alone that day was me.  Or, at least that’s the way I felt at the time.  Maybe in the past my loner-ness didn’t bother me so much as I had a long-term/long distance partner I could always call, so I never felt quite so alone even when….well, alone.  Having him to call made the difference of being alone and being lonely.  I considered calling my girlfriend whom I had lunch plans with the next day and inviting myself to her house but I knew she was busy with a new baby and didn’t want to be intrusive.  I wished I had brought a book or something to avert my wistful eyes from the couples and my thoughts from myself – and my pangs of loneliness.

Being alone and sitting with my Self had been a choice I had made many months ago.  After a long relationship that ended on an extremely hurtful note, I quickly began dating someone else; thinking it would help my broken heart and make me feel desirable again.  It lasted only a few weeks before I realized that I was doing an awful thing to another human being.  I was dating a man so as not to be lonely, instead of dating a man because I wanted to be with him – which I thought was entirely selfish and childlike of me.  He was a nice, handsome and generally interesting man and I wished I could have wanted to be with him.  But I didn’t.  So I got out before it went very far and have been alone ever since.  I’m rarely bothered by my being alone and general feelings of loneliness have lessened with the months.  Having a great group of friends and family keeps me busy, as does my art, and I know one day, I won’t be alone any longer.  However, surrounded by all those lovers, families and friends in Austin, Texas on the 4th of July, while eating southern Indian food at a little red picnic table and listening to the cicada bugs sing – I was bothered.

I finished my meal and continued on the road, window shopping and people watching.  After a few minutes I decided to head back to my hotel room, sip a martini and read before the fireworks.  Nothing was open anyway and the heat was only tolerable if under an umbrella or tree.  I dug my iPod out of my bag and began fiddling with it; thinking music would busy my mind as it tends to do.  As I looked up from my iPod I found myself standing directly in front of a wall spray-painted with the words, “I love you so much” on it.  I smiled to myself at the irony of it all; my wistfulness followed by another’s words of love spray-painted on a wall and just like that, I wasn’t so lonely anymore.  While the words should have bothered me, standing there alone on the street, still listing to the sounds of the cicadas singing in the trees near me, feeling melancholic, they, for some odd reason, gave me comfort.  The moss-green wall and red letters sprayed on it became my partner that evening and I no longer felt alone in the lone star state….

Fort Belvoir, Virginia and Lion Dogs – A Memoir

1976, Fort Belvoir, Virginia. My lion and I skating..

My son recently read C.S. Lewis’ book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.  Discussing the book with him reminded me of my own childhood.  I was one of those kids that didn’t need a ton of toys or games (besides my bike.)  My imagination, much like it is today, kept me entertained completely.

When I was a child I had my own Lion, my own Wardrobe and even a Witch.  My Lions name wasn’t  Aslan, but Ivanhoe.  Ivanhoe looked like a collie dog with a golden mane, long snout, warm eyes and a protective stance, but to me he was a real life lion.  I would make him sit patiently while I bandaged his pretend wounds and lectured him on treating his friend, namely my nasty cat Sabrina, so rudely.  He would apologize to me with his eyes – trying to explain what had happened, while I would hold Sabrina up to his face so he could apologize to her as well.  He wouldn’t even flinch when she would smack him, claws out, hissing.  Lions are like that; very regal and stoic.

My Wardrobe was the back door of my townhouse on Fort Belvoir, Virginia.  Outside of my house was thick woods that literally held hundreds of paths leading to the Potomac River.  Depending on the time of year the woods were either dark with a heavy leaf canopy, or bright, airy and cold with colored leaves carpeting the ground.  Sometimes, the blanket of snow was so deep the woods appear to partially disappear and when the river would freeze, my lion and I would ice-skate.  He would pad on the ice, slipping and falling and eventually head back to the edge and roar at me.

Ivanhoe and I would spend hours and hours exploring the woods, hunting for salamanders, rescuing birds that Sabrina had tortured, hiding under fallen trees and even spying on my brother and sister and friends.  We had special powers that made us invisible, so spying was no problem.  On the occasion our invisibility powers were weak and we were caught, we would use our super human speed and run home – me in the lead and Ivanhoe right on my tail.  We’d rest and eat and then be off again to the woods of Narnia.

Our Narnia had a Witch too.  I never saw her, although I would feel her around us occasionally.  My brother told me that there was no witch, but spirits of dead soldiers walking the woods and that people had been known to see them near “Dead-Man’s cliff.”  He and his friends would hunt for old war relics and tell scary stories.  The Queen, my mother, wouldn’t allow my lion and I to go to “the cliff” and said I was too young and it was too dangerous.  I went anyway of course, as I wasn’t fond of listening and knew my lion would protect me.  I never saw the dead soldier ghosts walking in the woods or standing at “Dead-Man’s cliff” so I never believed in them.  I didn’t have to see the Witch to know she existed.  She was always the one to whisper to me to break the rules and explore anyway…..

I lived on Fort Belvoir for only three years. My Lion, my Narnia, my Wardrobe and even my Witch gave me some of the most memorable days of my childhood.  I can still feel Ivanhoe’s mane, smell the forest floor of the woods surrounding the Potomac River, visualize the backdoor of my townhouse looking out at the woods and occasionally – my Witch still whispers to me……

Forgotten Language

Once I spoke the language of the flowers,
Once I understood each word the caterpillar said,
Once I smiled in secret at the gossip of the starlings,
And shared a conversation with the housefly
in my bed.
Once I heard and answered all the questions
of the crickets,
And joined the crying of each falling dying
flake of snow,
Once I spoke the language of the flowers. . . .
How did it go?
How did it go?
-Shel Silverstein